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R13 Preview: The Warm Up

Cairns and Townsville host the NBL's New Year's Eve fixtures needing wins against top four teams while the Sydney Kings host games at Olympic Park on Wednesday and Saturday night. Following an incredible Round 12 that saw sold out games either side of Christmas, the round surrounding the New Year is shaping up just as exciting. The Taipans and Crocodiles host the New Year's Eve fixtures against New Zealand and Illawarra respectively. The games are crucial for the Snakes and Crocs, but equally so for the Breakers and Hawks as they attempt to chase down the league-leading Perth Wildcats. Either side of New Year's Eve, the Kings host two games at their new home of Sydney Olympic Park Centre. After a solid crowd of 3561 attended their game against the Breakers on Sunday, the Kings host Melbourne on Wednesday and Cairns on Sunday with Josh Childress back in the mix. Round 13 tips off on Wednesday night with the Kings to take on a United who got a desperately needed win on Sunday at home to the Wildcats. Sydney might have lost seven of its last eight, but put in an encouraging showing against the defending champion Breakers before losing by 10 without Julian Khazzouh and Childress. Khazzouh won't be back this season, but Childress will be having recovered from a second hand fracture in succession to provide a significant boost. Tom Garlepp and Jason Cadee have done a tremendous job stepping up for Sydney and with them in career-best form, it provides a strong three-pronged punch with the returning Childress. If Marcus Thornton, Angus Brandt, Dion Prewster, Rhys Carter and Jerome Hill can also contribute, the Kings could come away with a fifth win of the season. Particularly after their 96-81 win over Melbourne just two weeks ago. United snapped a three-game losing slide on Sunday in front of over 10,000 fans at Hisense Arena beating the Wildcats. They need to continue that momentum to consolidate their place in the four. The signs were good for Melbourne on Sunday with Chris Goulding (27 points), Hakim Warrick (16 points, 11 rebounds) and Stephen Holt (16 points, seven assists) outstanding. They need to be again. And don't forget the mouth-watering match up of former NBA stars Childress and Warrick for the first time in the NBL. Focus then turns to New Year's Eve with two games in Far North Queensland to end 2015. The Taipans host the Breakers in a rematch of last season's Grand Final and it's important for both. The Snakes have lost five of their last seven to have a 6-10 record coming into the contest and they need to get on a winning run to make the playoffs again. There would be no better place for that to start than New Year's Eve against the team that vanquished them on their home floor in the Grand Final. The Taipans will be without import point guard Markel Starks because of a hamstring injury suffered two weeks ago at home to Perth. That puts pressure on Cameron Gliddon and Shaun Bruce with help from Damon Heuir and Torrey Craig against the mighty Breakers back court pairing of Cedric Jackson and Corey Webster. In the only other Grand Final rematch of this season, the Breakers beat the Taipans by 23 points at home. Webster and Jackson combined for 45 points, 12 rebounds and six assists while Tai Wesley had 26 points and eight boards. If that all happens again, the Snakes might not win so Gliddon, Bruce and company need to step up against Jackson and Webster. And veteran power forward trio Mark Worthington, Alex Loughton and Cameron Tragardh have to guide the Taipans to the win. The Breakers have so many weapons, though, and are looking to keep winning to keep pace with the league-leading Wildcats. The other New Year's clash sees the Crocs host the Hawks as old pals Shawn Dennis and Rob Beveridge lock horns for the third time this season, and only the third time ever. The contest might pit the league's leading scoring team (Illawarra at 93.5) against the lowest scoring one (Townsville at 77.2) but that doesn’t tell the story of what shapes as a fascinating contest. The Hawks did thump the Crocs by 38 points back on November 28 in Wollongong, but the Crocs have responded well since then. The Crocodiles have won three of their last five with Jordair Jett leading the way with Mitch Young, Nick Kay, Clint Steindl, Mitch Norton and Mirko Djeric among those stepping up. The Hawks, meanwhile, have won six of their last seven while averaging 101 points in that stretch. With Kirk Penney outside, AJ Ogilvy inside, Kevin Lisch in control and then Oscar Forman, Tim Coenraad, Rhys Martin, Jarrad Weeks, Larry Davidson, Kevin White and Cody Ellis, it's quite a group Beveridge has. If the Hawks get going and again score 100, it might be a tough night for the Crocs. But if the home team shows off their trademark fighting spirit and they can close down the visitors, another upset could be on the cards. The opening game of 2016 will take place on Saturday as the Kings again head to Olympic Park to host the Taipans. The Kings will bring in the New Year having already played earlier in the round on Wednesday against Melbourne while the Taipans will have also taken on the Breakers on Thursday. ROUND 13 NBL FIXTURES (local times) WEDNESDAY Sydney Kings v Melbourne United (Sydney Olympic Park Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 7.30pm THURSDAY (NEW YEAR'S EVE) Cairns Taipans v New Zealand Breakers (Cairns Convention Centre) – Fox Sports 2, 6.30pm Townsville Crocodiles v Illawarra Hawks (Townsville Entertainment Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 6.30pm SATURDAY Sydney Kings v Cairns Taipans (Sydney Olympic Park Centre) – Fox Sports 3, 7.30pm
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